Tablets could ‘fizzle out’ without AI voice, gesture input, analyst warns

AI may save the PC, but what about the tablet form factor?

The first three quarters of 2023 saw some of the largest contractions in the tablet market, according to IDC, while the analyst firm said the decline in Q3 was 14% year-over year, totalling 33 million units shipped. Even Apple saw a 15% decline.

The news of AI on PCs from several chip vendors is expected to inject life into the desktop and laptop segment, but tablets are a different story as a tweener between laptops and smartphones. The expected impact of AI for PCs might not be enough for the tablet segment.

“Absolutely, tablets will benefit from many of the changes in silicon and AI that are expected to be part of PCs in the near future,” said Jitesh Ubrani, research manager at IDC via email to Fierce Electronics.

Unfortunately, however, tablets have “always found themselves in an awkward middle ground between PCs and smartphones and this continues to put downward pressure on the market,” he added. So, AI or not, tablets face a struggle.

“However, in the long term, AI could potentially change the way we use tablets.  Imagine never needing a keyboard because voice or gesture input is perfected. If that happens, tablets could potentially displace PCs as we know them today,” Jibrani added.

But these concepts of voice or gesture input on a tablet “aren’t going to happen anytime soon and we’re likely to see many more iterations of AI, as well as hardware and form factor changes along the way,” Jibrani added.

“Barring any of these changes, tablets are likely to fizzle out in the long term,” he said.

Aside from using a potential AI tablet with voice or gesture input, he said the industry is not being very clear on specific AI-related apps, especially for tablets.  “Even IT decision makers don’t fully know the potential of AI and how it will impact daily workloads.”

Still, many decision makers know AI is transformative and they don’t want to be left behind.

When smartphones first came on the scene after 2007, manufacturers didn’t fully realize how important a high quality camera incorporated with the phone would be, but now Google Pixel, Samsung Galaxy and Apple iPhone smartphones feature some elements of AI or machine learning to help make quick edits to photos and add a series of dramatic effects.

IDC said tablets would see a refresh cycle in the education segment to help the form factor stay afloat, but added Anuroopa Nataraj, senior IDC research analyst, “In the near future, we don’t expect any significant uptick in tablet sales."

Tablets are also victim of macroeconomic conditions, including supply chain fluctuations, that have hurt PC  and smartphone sales. In early October, IDC proclaimed that PC shipments had moved through the bottom of the trough of recent quarters, even as third quarter results showed a decline of 7.6% globally. While PC use cases have not been fully articulated, generative AI “could be a watershed moment for the PC industry,” Linn Huang, research vice president at IDC, said at the time.

Smartphones seem in a better place, with only a slight decline of 0.1% in the third quarter, putting them on track to recovery after a lengthy period of decline, IDC said Oct. 26.

Samsung led in smartphones in Q3, with nearly 20% market share, while Apple had nearly 18% and Xiaomi had nearly 14% of a total of 303 million smartphones shipped for the quarter.

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